Friday August 30 could well be remembered as the night the 2013 League of Ireland title race swung in Dundalk’s favour as Stephen Kenny’s men beat UCD to move to the top of the league.
Goals from Patrick Hoban and Richie Towell, coupled with Bohemians’ 1-1 draw against St Patrick’s Athletic in Inchicore mean that Stephen Kenny’s men sit proudly at the top of the table with just seven games to play.
Hoban took his tally to 12 in the league, an outstanding contribution made even more special when you consider that Mark Quigley and Fahrudin Kuduzovic, two seasoned campaigners in League of Ireland Premier Division terms, mustered 13 and 11 respectively in their time at Oriel Park.
Even more incredible is Dundalk’s record on their travels. This title challenge has been founded on a remarkable away record.
This victory took their tally of points on the road to 32 from a possible 39 available.
The next away trip in the league for the Lilywhite army - who seem to swell in numbers with every game - is a potential title showdown with Pat’s in Richmond Park on September 20.
Dundalk arrived in south Dublin looking for their sixth win on the trot in all competitions. The Dundalk boss made one change to the side that beat Limerick 5-3 in their FAI Cup tie seven days earlier with Brian Gartland returning to take the place of John Sullivan in defence.
The pattern of play was established early on. Dundalk dominated the possession counts and probed in front of the UCD back four without making any real penetration.
Towell, man of the match in Dundalk’s previous two games, attempted an audacious chip from just past the halfway line in the 3rd minute but his effort got caught up in the wind. This came from yet another blockbusting Chris Shields tackle to break up play; a prominent feature of recent weeks.
Goals looked to be on the menu - the last scoreless draw between these sides came in January 1999, some 21 games ago - but it wasn’t until the 21st minute that a goalkeeper was really worked.
UCD midfielder Craig Walsh was allowed to travel unopposed towards the Dundalk final third. His shot from distance deflected off Dane Massey, making Peter Cherrie’s save even more impressive. It proved to be the Scots only moment of real concern.
From then on it was the visitors who asked all the questions.
Darren Meenan forced a good stop from Ger Barron with a powerful effort after Stephen O’Donnell had burst through.
Dundalk went close again from the resulting corner. Andy Boyle retrieved a clearance and showed great footwork to create a yard of space but his cross cum shot was headed over by Hoban.
The visitors continued to turn the screw and a sweeping move on the right almost had the sizeable travelling support celebrating eight minutes before the break.
Mark Rossiter ran onto a Towell pass, delivering a wicked cross into the centre for Hoban. However the number 9’s goalward header was thwarted by Michael Leahy who did just enough to block the effort.
UCD found themselves penned back at the start of the second-half as Kenny’s title chasers looked for the all important break through.
The best chance of the proceedings came in the 51st minute. Gartland’s sweeping ball from the back picked out Kurtis Byrne in behind the UCD back four. Byrne’s first touch was immaculate, pulling the ball down to set himself for a powerful strike that just whistled wide of the post.
The Students were then reduced to ten men with referee Tom Connolly involved in one of the most bizarre dismissals of the season.
Substitute Michael Kelly’s over eagerness to get involved in the action cost him a booking in the 56th minute. The defender eventually did get on seconds later but he played just four minutes, a silly tackle on O’Donnell on the hour mark resulting in Connolly brandishing a second yellow.
That gave Dundalk further impetus and O’Donnell forced yet another fantastic save from Barron, the skipper’s ferocious half volley brilliantly tipped over.
The travelling horde could sense a way through and it came in the 67th minute.
O’Donnell was the provider, latching onto a Towell pass to send in a cross to the near post which Hoban gobbled up in his now customary fashion.
Kenny’s side went for the throat and Hoban had two further chances to add a second before Towell wrapped up the points with yet another fantastic goal with seven minutes to go when he curled a loose ball inside Barron’s post with the outside of his right foot.